29 March 2010

Fuller's London Pride

Fuller's London Pride (can)
London, England
4.7% ABV

We went to have a pint of Oberon this afternoon after lunch, as today's the release date. Tonight, though, I'm having a chill evening at home writing up a beer that I've been meaning to do for a couple of months now, but whenever I'm in a place to drink it something or other gets in the way.

I've been way into English beers lately, and I've reviewed a few of Fuller's other beers. They're all excellent, but this one might just be my favorite session beer at the moment. How does it stand up to the review process?

Pours golden yellow with a thick creamy white head that sticks around and leaves significant lacing. Very transparent. Smells coppery, sweet, with a nice dose of English hops modulated very well with the golden malt backbone. Aroma is overall rich, interesting, drawing me into the beer.

Tastes smooth, much like the aroma, with a bit of straw graininess to give the flavor some texture. Finishes sweet and slightly dry, with a drying aftertaste. Mouthfeel moderate, with a moderate carbonation and no significant hop bite.

It's hard to make a beer that's this simple and yet this delicious. I wouldn't call Fuller's London Pride a hugely complex beer, but this is definitely harder-than-it-looks territory. A nearly perfect beer for what it is, perhaps my favorite English Pale Ale.

My overall BA rating: 4.2/5

28 March 2010

Short's The Magician Dark Red London-Style Ale

Short's The Magician (bottle)
Elk Rapids, MI
6.0% ABV

Yeah, I'm still using BeerAdvocate for my reviews. Still feeling ambivalent about it.

I reviewed all eight of Short's limited release bottles over the winter holidays, so when we got Short's newest year-round bottle released I knew I had to try it. This is my fourth bottle out of the sixer, and while it's a good brew, I don't think it quite lives up to the excellence of some of their other beers, in particular the Huma-Lupa Licious and the Soft Parade.

Pours dark reddish/amber with a very thick creamy brownish head. Clear body, but dark. Very interesting and inviting.

Smells very much like a traditional amber, but with a grainy fruitiness that adds complexity. Slight tartness and hints of sourness, not a lactic sourness or even a bretty sourness but just a traditional microbrewed Amber sour aroma.

Flavor is sweet, very grainy and bready, with a dry aftertaste and finish. Sourness is only present in the nose.

Mouthfeel moderately thick, creamy, with low carbonation and only a hint of hoppiness.

Overall quite drinkable, a decent beer, easy to consume, and worth the cost of the ten-dollar sixer. Overall I just don't have a lot to say.

My overall BA rating: 3.8/5

25 March 2010

Saugatuck Singapore IPA

Saugatuck Singapore IPA
Douglas, MI
7.0% ABV

Not much commentary here. I've heard good things about the brewery, and I'm in the mood for a nice IPA. How's this beer?

Pours a nice copper color into my glass, very clear with only a slight haze, with a thick slightly off-white head that sticks around on the top of the glass. Head is foamy and somewhat bubbly. Appetizing. Has a strong crisp hop aroma, Chinook maybe? Very West-Coast, but definitely not a C-hop. Underneath there's a nice orangey citrus component, sweet and malty. Again, very inviting.

Flavor is similar. Strong bitter hops, not overpowering but with that almost soapy quality, with a sweet orangey malt backbone. Hints of yeast underneath. Finishes dry. Mouthfeel is moderately thick, with heavy hops (obviously) and a moderate carbonation.

Overall, I like this beer, but it does get a little monotonous over time. Again, I've heard good things about the brewery, and I'd recommend this beer, but probably not one of my all-time favorites.

My overall BA rating: 4.1/5

Schmohz Valley City Cream Ale

Schmohz Valley City Cream Ale
Grand Rapids, MI
5.0% ABV

I've been thinking about quitting BeerAdvocate. This is a big deal for me, as I've been a BA user ever since I started drinking beer, and have a (fairly) large collection of reviews over there. I've been active on the forums off and on over the years, and really the site is a great resource for learning about beer.

But. I've gotten to the point now that I find myself getting annoyed by the rating interface, disliking having to input reviews here and over there, and lacking an easy way to download those reviews back onto my computer. The way I've been working lately is to type up my thoughts here and then cut+paste them over into the BA system, which is fine, but it just takes up time that seems silly to waste.

Sure, if I leave BA behind I'll have to stop putting a numerical score at the bottom of my posts, but is that really a great sacrifice? I can easily just give an A to F rating for the beers based on my experiences, which would be pretty fair even though it isn't a standardized metric used fairly widely across the online beer geek community.

I'm still using BA for this review, but I figured I'd put my thoughts to pixels and see if I got any responses.

So. My experiences with Schmohz have been rather mixed. We got their beer in at the store about six or eight months ago, and I tried one almost immediately, and found it to have what I perceived to be substantial technical flaws. Since then I've tried three of their other beers but haven't bothered to review, as I feel like a newly bottling brewery deserves a little bit of time to standardize their process and get things rolling before I weigh in with what could be perceived as a bit of a slam.

This beer is a new one for me, and as of writing the above I haven't even opened the bottle yet. How does the Valley City Cream Ale stack up? Well....

Pours golden yellow with a one-finger white foamy head that dissipates pretty quickly but leaves some lacing on the glass. Pretty clear, but with a bit of haze. Not bad at all. First impressions on the nose are of strong oranges and citrus notes. Beneath that is a hint of yeast and spice... this reminds me a bit of an American-style witbier more than a cream ale.

Flavor is strongly citrus, lots of oranges and hints of grapefruit. A hop bitterness balances the palate and gives the beer a bit of a dry finish and aftertaste. If this is made with adjuncts they're pretty well-hidden. It's not hard to imagine this as a competitor for Oberon, at least from the overall character of the ale.

Mouthfeel is moderate-to-thick, creamy, with quite a bit of body. Goes down smooth and clean. Some hoppiness and carbonation bites the tongue.

I expected to dislike this beer or at least drink it grudgingly, but this is actually a pretty decent beer, probably a great starter for those looking for an introduction to decent stuff after only drinking macro products, and a nearly perfect lawnmower beer. Is it as good as Oberon? Well, let's not get ahead of ourselves here....

My overall BA rating: 3.8/5

14 March 2010

Heavy Seas Red Sky at Night

Heavy Seas Red Sky at Night (bottle)
Baltimore, MD
8.0% ABV

This will be the first saison I've reviewed in BA. Not the first I've had, mind you, but all my other saison reviews are on paper and haven't been inputted yet. Another reason to get a bit more organized.

Pours yellow/orange, very hazy, thin white foamy head. Significant yeast in the bottle leaves heavy levels of sediment suspended in the bottle.

Strong sour lactic aroma, some citrus esters, hints of clean dry malt. Overall lemony nose.

Citrus lemon also dominates the flavor, clean and crisp. Sweet finish, slightly dry aftertaste.

Mouthfeel moderate, high carbonation, low hops.

Overall a decent beer, but uncomplex, and not really worth the effort to seek out.

My overall BA rating: 3.2/5

Rogue Imperial Younger's Special Bitter

Rogue Imperial Younger's Special Bitter (ceramic bottle)
Newport, OR
7.4% ABV

Shana's gone to Chicago for the day on a school-related thing, so I've been left home alone on a day when I don't have to work. It'd be an excellent day to brew, but I didn't really prep ahead of time, and I'm not quite ready for that anyway. I'd go to a movie, but my bank account says no. And I've had enough Bioshock 2 for the day already. So I guess it's time to see what I've got chilling in the cellar.

Oh yeah, that'll do nicely. Found it at a shop in Knoxville when we were down there last summer visiting Corrine, so it's at least a year old, but a bottle like this should see that as a problem. I know almost nothing about this beer, and have never had a good opportunity to try the normal Younger's, so I'm going into this a bit blind.

The bottle gushed a bit when I opened it, and damn do I hate getting beer all over the place. Thankfully I was handy with a glass and this necessitated only a minor bit of cleanup. Still annoying. Anyway, pours dark amber/copper-colored with a one-finger slightly-off-white head that sticks around for awhile. Very hazy, impossible to see all the way through unless you hold it up to a strong light. Looks inviting, and the slight hints of the aroma I've gotten while checking it out are even more so. Strong dry malt body, lots of English-style aromatic hops. Definitely Goldings. (The back of the bottle confirms this and also lists Amarillo and Willamette.) A lot of sweetness, almost a biscuity background. Amazing aroma.

Flavor is amazingly well-balanced for a seven-percent-plus ESB. Strong hops, sure, but an equally strong malt backbone, and the balance makes for an amazingly English-style ESB even while reaching hoppiness and malt boundaries that no respectable English ESB would even consider. The hoppiness and dryness get a little overbearing as I get deeper into the beer, but it's still a really nice version of the style, very much worth a purchase for anyone looking to see what Rogue can do with an Imperial bitter. Maybe I'll pick up one of those silkscreened "normal" Younger's bottles next time I see one.

My overall BA rating: 4.4/5

(I'm considering just leaving BA behind altogether, as this forum is a lot better for me to review beers than theirs these days. Still, it's convenient having everything in one place. Anyone have any thoughts on the matter?)

09 March 2010

Founders Porter

Founders Porter (bottle)
Grand Rapids, MI
6.5% ABV

I had a draft of the Barrel-Aged Porter at Founders last week as part of my pre-birthday stuff, so I figured now was the time to try the bottle that Scott gave me a couple of months ago when we got a case at the store. (Scott gives me a lot of beer, probably because I drink an order of magnitude more of it than he does.)

Pours black/dark brown with a slight reddish tinge. Thin brown head that becomes soapscum almost immediately. Maybe I should have poured a bit more aggressively? Smells strongly of sweet roasted malts, lots of bittersweet chocolate and a significant dryness and some hoppiness. Very inviting aroma.

Tastes great. Lots of black patent malt, very dry, with a great roasty quality on the back of the tongue. A slight hoppiness tickles the tongue, and the aftertaste is filled with bittersweet chocolate. Some sweetness way down deep in the aftereffect. Mouthfeel moderately thick, with a heavy dose of carbonation and the aforementioned dryness coating the palate.

Overall a drinkable beer. Definitely worth a try for those looking for a good porter. Does it match up with Edmund Fitzgerald or Fuller's London Porter, no, but it's definitely well above average for style.

My overall BA review: 4.1/5

05 March 2010

The Session: The Display Shelf -- When to Drink the Good Stuff

The Session is here again. I've been a bit remiss with my blogging lately, but this is a topic that inspires at least a simple response.

My journey to a full-fledged beer enthusiast has gone from having a preference for full flavored beers -- to homebrewer -- to craft beer drinker -- to beer traveler -- to beer collector -- to beer blogger. Over the past few years, I have purchased or been gifted numerous bottles of beers that I subsequently cellared and designated as “to be opened on a special occasion.” My dilemma, however, is matching an occasion with opening a particular bottle in my collection.

Not unlike collectors of other sorts, my behavior has transitioned from exploring diverse offerings to being more acquisitive in manner. Easy fix, right? Pull something out and drink it. But for example, after I enjoyed the complexities of a 750mL bottle of Victory Golden Monkey aged four years, I somehow find it harder to justify opening unique bottles in my collection that I have personally aged. Would it have been even better after five years? What about some of my other friends that did not get to share in the experience?
 Yeah. Now, personally, I've long been in the kind of financial situation that forbids the kind of mass-purchase of rare stuff that leads to this problem being prevalent. No cases of Eccentric Ale or bottles of Dark Lord or Westy 12 in my cellar -- I'm limited to a few singles of last year's Expedition and Third Coast Old Ale, and a bottle of Vertical Epic 08 and maybe a handful of others. I'm much more likely to hang on to bottles of stuff that isn't necessarily rare or specialty, but which for whatever reason I've found it hard to get ahold of: my bottle of St Bernadus Abt 12 in the garage is one example, and the two bottles of Yuengling Lager (of all things!) collecting dust in the cellar is another.

So... when do you drink these bottles? There's always a temptation to wait until that oh-so-perfect opportunity for a great beer, to find that moment and setting that matches the beer perfectly... and yet, in my experience, such waiting is usually for nought. To paraphrase Sideways, the day you open an Old Guardian Barleywine is a special occasion all by itself.

Which is why I've decided to put my money where my mouth is and open the bottle of Founders Nemesis 2009 which I bought just this afternoon and write it up right now. It's far from a perfect drinking environment; my girlfriend is watching a DVR-ed episode of The Mentalist on the TV while I listen to music on headphones. I've just had dinner, which could impact my palate, although I had some water to clean the tongue, and I'm basically just sitting in the corner of my basement by myself. But my guess is that opening a great bottle will be worth it, even if this is likely my only chance to try the beer.

Founders Nemesis 2009 (bottle)
Grand Rapids, MI
12.0% ABV

Immediately after the pour.
Pours into my New Holland pint glass hazy brown/red with no head at all. Swirling around in the glass gives a tiny bit of soapscum, but nothing significant. Some chill haze in the glass. Considering the ABV, this is pretty much as-expected.

Smells strongly of wheat malt, crisp and clean, with a slight grainy quality. Significant alcohol astringency, hints of hops buried deep. Taste is amazing, rich deep notes of malted wheat with hints of spicy undertones. The alcohol really starts to burn as the beer warms. Mouthfeel is thick, with a significant carbonation that stings the tongue.

Overall this is a very drinkable beer, a very good example of the style, but not really worth the effort people have been putting into obtaining it. It's a nice wheatwine (and, perhaps undercutting my thesis, it could probably stand a bit of aging), but is it really better than, say, New Holland's Pilgrim's Dole, which is made in much larger batches and more readily available? I understand why it makes sense for a brewery to release a beer with this kind of fanfare, but must we beer geeks follow blindly the siren call? So often rare beers of this kind really just turn into a kind of dick-swinging contest, a "too bad you didn't manage to swing a bottle of Nemesis this year," kind of thing. Great beer should be about the love of the craft and the joy of sharing, not these kinds of games.

So how do I feel about the Good Stuff? Drink it when you damn well feel like. A special occasion will be special even with only decent beer, and a day you open something great is a special occasion in itself.